CHAPTER VII. THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT

One of the reasons which influenced the archdukes and the King of Spain to make large concessions in order to secure the assent of the States-General to the conclusion of a twelve years' truce was their firm belief that the unstable political condition of the United Provinces must lead to civil discord, as soon as the relaxing of the pressure of war loosened the bonds which had, since Leicester's departure, held together a number of separate authorities and discordant interests. They were right in their supposition. In order, therefore, to understand the course of events in the republic, which had been correctly recognised by the treaty not as a single state, but as a group of "free and independent States," it is necessary to give a brief account of one of the most strangely complicated systems of government that the world has ever seen - especially strange because no one could ever say positively where or with whom the sovereignty really resided.

Let us take into separate consideration the powers and functions of (1) the Council of State, (2) the States-General, (3) the Provincial Estates, (4) the Stadholders, (5) the Advocate (later the Raad-Pensionarius or Council-Pensionary) of Holland, (6) the Admiralty Colleges.

The Council of State was not a legislative, but an executive, body. In the time of Leicester the Council was the executive arm of the governor-general and had large powers. After his departure the presence of the English ambassador, who by treaty had a seat in the Council, caused the States-General gradually to absorb its powers, and to make its functions subordinate to their own, until at last its authority was confined to the administration of the affairs of war and of finance. The right of the English representative to sit in the Council and take an active part in its deliberations continued till 1626. The Stadholders were also ex officio members. The Provinces, since 1588, were represented by twelve councillors. Holland had three; Gelderland, Zeeland and Friesland two each; Utrecht, Overyssel and Groningen (Stad en Landeri) one each. The treasurer-general and the clerk (Griffier) of the States-General took part in the deliberations and had great influence. The chief duty of the Council, during the period with which we are dealing, was the raising of the "quotas" from the various provinces for the military defence of the State. The General Petition or War Budget was prepared by the Council and presented to the States-General at the end of each year, providing for the military expenses in the following twelve months. The "quotas" due towards these expenses from the several provinces were set forth in smaller petitions sent to the Provincial Estates, whose consent was necessary. The so-called repartitie fixing the amount of these quotas was likewise drawn up by the Council of State, and was the subject at times of considerable haggling and discontent. In 1612 it was settled that the proportions to be borne by the provinces should be Holland 57.1 per cent.; Friesland 11.4; Zeeland 11 (afterwards reduced to 9); Utrecht and Groningen 5.5; Overyssel 3.5. It will thus be seen that the quota of Holland was considerably more than half of the whole; and, as the naval expenditure was to an even larger extent borne by Holland, the preponderating influence of this province in the Union can be easily understood. The forces of the republic that were distributed in the several provinces received their pay from the provinces, but those maintained by the Council, as troops of the State, were paid by monies received from the Generality lands, i.e. lands such as the conquered portions of Brabant and Flanders, governed by the States-General, but without representation in that body. The Council of State, though its political powers were curtailed and absorbed by the States-General, continued to exercise, as a court of justice, appellate jurisdiction in military and financial questions.